Great Meeting at Mexborough – Men given Notice

August 1878

August 30th 1878.

Denaby Main Colliery

Great Meeting of Miners at Mexborough.

Men given Notice

27% Reduction in Pay

As we stated in our last week´s impression, the men employed at this colliery have received notice from their employers to terminate their employment. It was understood that this action foreshadowed a proposed reduction in the men´s wages, which has proved correct.

The men therefore resolved to hold a meeting at their Lodge house (the Mason´s Arms Inn, Doncaster Road ), and accordingly the Town Crier went round Mexborough and district with the announcement that a meeting would be held at 10 o´clock on Monday morning.

Shortly after that hour, not less than 500 miners were assembled in the croft adjoining the Inn, and the meeting throughout was characterised with great unanimity and exemplary order.


A miner ( whose name we could not ascertain ) was voted to the chair. In his opening remarks, the chairman said he was glad to see so many of his fellow workmen present. He did not suppose he need ask them to keep order for he had no doubt they would do so. They we aware that when that meeting was projected, a deputation waited on the manager of the colliery on Friday, for the purpose of informing him that the men would not work that day ( Monday ) as they wished to hold a meeting to consider the action that the employers had recently taken in giving the men notice to leave their occupations. Of course in consequence of their working three shifts a week it was impossible to hold a meeting without `playing´ a day. The question called for the attendance of every man and boy at that pit and he thought as he looked round, that there was not many absent, and it should that Unionism predominated there. The manager did not countenance the pit `playing´ a day, as he no doubt thought the object of the men would be achieved. The deputation merely stated that a meeting was going to be held. On the following day ( Saturday ) the manager sent word that he wished to see another deputation of the men, and it was thought that something must have unexpectedly arisen to settle their grievance. But no, it was merely to say that if the men `played´ on Monday, such a course would be regarded as commencing hostilities between masters and men. He (the speaker) thought that whether that was so or not, it was only right and necessary that they should meet. (Hear, hear)

The manager was told that they could not lay the question before half the men, but that all must have an opportunity of discussing it, and coming to some definite decision on it. He was also asked if he was willing to withdraw the notices that had been issued, providing the meeting was not held, but he replied in the negative, and said that a substantial reduction in wages of the men would be required.


That reduction he (the chairman) might tell them, was equivalent to 27 %.

(Shame) If they agreed to submit to it, they would be drifting back further than 1858, when 15 % was asked for less than 1871 prices. It was then that their Union was founded, which was organised as a barrier to such oppression. After a lapse of 20 years, through hardships of all kinds, it survived today and if they stuck to it, it would stick to them. They were called on to cede a reduction greater than 1858, and it was a question with them whether they intended to submit to it ( cries of no, no.) Were they getting a living now, some of them, on their present wage? No, they could not keep themselves respectably on them. If this reduction was acceded to, he was afraid their boot soles would wear out and they would have to walk on the upper leathers ( Laughter ). He thought they should move a resolution.

Another miner then read a resolution which was proposed, seconded and carried unanimously, to the effect that the men were resolved to resist the proposed reduction to the utmost. (Loud Cheers followed the showing of hands)

The chairman said they must bear in mind that the way in which these notices were given, was without precedent at Denaby Main. They had generally had notice served on all concerned, but in this instance, only the coal-getters had received them, and for some unexplained reason the fillers and bye-workmen had been omitted altogether. It was therefore their duty to consider whether, when the notices expired, the time of the fillers and bye-workmen was to expire also.

A collier said he would propose a resolution that their time should expire with the rest, and if necessary they should cease work like the others, this was carried men dis.


The chairman thought that the question touching the bye-workmen should be next considered. Should they do any work besides their proper work? If the management requested them to do any other duties than those which belonged to them, were they to refuse ? He thought they should move a resolution stating that in the opinion of that meeting they should only do their proper work, and `throw down´ if they were asked to do any other. A resolution embodying these views was carried unanimously.


The chairman said that when the deputation met with the manager on Saturday, they took the opportunity to lay the `butty´ system before him.


They felt a jealousy as to the way in which the notices had been served – there was more behind the scenes he thought than had come to the surface. He was sorry to tell them that the manager did not say he would not carry the `butty´ system out. (Shame) They were well aware that the `butty´ man squeezed the very life-blood out of the colliers, and oppressed them in many ways. A man could not handle his own money, and get paid at the office like another man, but the `butty´ man had all in his power. It was thorough serfdom which ought to be out of existence at the present day ( Hear, hear.) It was shameful that such a system should be allowed in South Yorkshire.

He saw many new faces before him, and knew that they were new hands, but he felt sure that they would join them in resisting this unreasonable demand of their masters, and would stand by the old men, and fight the battle to the bitter end. Questions had been asked where the `butty´ men would come from ? All he had to tell them was to maintain their position as men and it would keep the strangers away.

A proposition was here placed before the meeting, that bills be issued throughout the district requesting strangers to keep away from Denaby Main, so as to prevent the establishing of the `butty´ system at the colliery.

The resolution was carried without a dissent.

The chairman said they had taken a bold step, but it was his opinion that it was a righteous one ( Hear, here ), in calling them together, and if, as the manager had intimated, hostilities had really commenced, they must fight the matter out. No doubt many men would be taken advantage of, but as far as he ( the chair-man ) was concerned, he thought if they all kept together, they would be able to weather the storm. (Hear, hear)

Another miner ( who refused to furnish his name to our reporter ) was the next to address the meeting. He said they had passed some good resolutions, but it would be no good unless they were determined to carry them out. It was necessary that they should be carried out, not only in the spirit, but to the letter. (Cheers) They would doubtless be influenced by many persons outside but they must be firm and resolve to stick by each other. If threats were not used it would be something new, and they had had several things new at Denaby Main. (Laughter)

The manager said he was new (Renewed laughter). They had been told that the Union had been established to resist a 15 % reduction in 1858, and they had passed through various vicissitudes since then, and he had seen many changes, but although their Union was not so prosperous as he should like to see it, they must stick to it as they would to a friend, and they would be sure to succeed. Their opponents had endeavoured to stamp it out, but had failed. (Cheers) If they endeavoured to uphold the principles of Unionism they would weather both the `butty´ system and the 27 % reduction. (Cheers) They would not he felt sure, be willing to submit to this reduction, (cries of no, no ) not even a 5 %.

(A voice ” not a farthing ” and hear, hear ).

In his opinion there was no necessity for any such reduction in a commercial point of view, their masters would tell them that the pit was not paying this, and not paying that, but they could form their own ideas on that topic. (Hear, hear) There was no necessity for any such reduction on the grounds of high wages ( derisive cheers ), for they knew well that many men at Denaby Main were not earning more than 3s. And 4s. per day. (A voice “less than that) There rather ought to be an advance of 27 % – and he hoped they would have an advance instead of a reduction. He had no more to say, talking was not his chief principle of Unionism, but action. (Hear, hear) They must act as well as talk. They had that morning done some good business and they must carry it out ; put away that under mindedness that prevailed among some of them, and neither deceive each other, nor be deceived. He had no doubt whatever that they would be true to each other, and if so, they would accomplish their desire. (Cheers)

There being loud cries for Mr. Bailey ( of Manvers Main ) who had been seen among the crowd, he came forward amid loud cheers and delivered a lengthy and forcible address, remarking at the outset that claps were to him, like spurs to a donkey. (Loud laughter)

He said he would have preferred to prepare his discourse, if it had been possible, he always liked to do so, and when he heard a man talk five minutes, he was generally prepared to follow, and talk for five hours. (A laugh)

Reference had been made to strange men at Denaby, but he thought however strange they might be to the neighbourhood and the men, they were not strangers to Unionism. (Cheers)

There was no principle in the world than that of Unionism in South Yorkshire. He could tell them that Unionism did not consist of paying their money in altogether, but it was in brotherly love and unity, friendship, and all these noble sentiments that made the working man what he should be. (Cheers)

He had worked hard for twenty years, and he was a better man for his Unionism. The great principle was love, to do to others, as they wished others to do to them. He would at any time spill his life´s blood in defence of the Union. A master once said to him ” What are you going to do for your Union ?”

He ( the speaker ) gave him the gent´s salute ( a laugh ) and replied that he was going to fight for it, and if he (the master) thought he was going to throw it over he was much mistaken. Now he was of opinion that every man´s occupation should be able to keep him, to maintain his wife, family and home respectably ( Hear, hear ) and when it did not so do he considered the government of this country ought to interfere ( Hear, hear ).He denied that the commercial conditions of the country were bad, for at one colliery in the district they had advanced the men 5 %. When he saw little children barefooted, which he sometimes did, he considered there was no necessity for any reduction of wages. (Cheers)

They might take it for granted that the managers did not care a lot for the miners, but were ready at all times to serve their own interests. He had been on strike sixteen weeks, and it had been said that he lived on the money that was being collected in the neighbourhood. When he told them that out of the collection that week he got 10d. and gave 9d. out of his own house towards it, they would not consider he got much. (Hear, hear)

If the men of Denaby Main only resolved to stand together, no power could overthrow them. He had a little advice to give them. Let them treat the strangers like brothers and try to lead them, by persuasion to go their way. Do not let them resort to force, if possible to avoid it. When they commenced to damage property it did great injury to their cause, or it hurt women, and frightened children ( Hear, hear ) Let them fight their battle by conduct. (Hear, hear)

Lead on another hand in hand and they would win eventually. In conclusion he asked them to act as men one to another, to treat their masters respectfully and they would in return be respected. Mr. Markham, of Staveley, once told him (the speaker ) that he was ” as sanctimonious as an angel.” (Laughter)

He did not believe in a man being bribed or bought over for a pint of beer.


Mr. Bailey concluded his very forcible address by an elaborate defence of the Union, which he said was like a lever that would lift the men out of the poverty and trouble they were in and make them respectable. (Loud Cheers)

After arrangements had been made to hold another meeting on Monday next at 11-00 o´clock and votes of thanks having been given the meeting terminated.